A brother wrote me the other day, upset and listing the difficulties and drama in his life. Soon to be released from prison, he wants to know how he can manage to find a nice wife, have a family, and find just the right career. He mentions my wife, and my life, and wow, I hope I haven’t been bragging, but he asks, “How do I get me what you have?” Should I just tell him the truth? “You can’t?”
I suppose that I could give him the same advice that I have given many young men who are ‘trying to make it happen,’ for themselves:
“In order to lead a happy life; find a very godly young woman who suffers from momentary lapses in judgment. And then time your proposal perfectly.”
Okay, seriously: Society trains young men to be masters of their destiny, to set goals, and to go after them. But for the Christian, that is settling. God has way better for us, than we can even “hope or imagine.” And for us, “the good life” is not achieved; it is received.
“For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?”
1 Corinthians 4:7
Learn to receive from God. Since God is able to do ”immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,” our achieving our own plan is settling for less. We are trained by society, to balk at waiting. “You snooze, you loose,” we grow up hearing. Words like “rest,” and “quiet and peaceful life,” sound like enemies to “achieving.”
Recently, I heard Pastor Dave Swaim preaching on Psalm 23. I tend to look at sheep endearingly. Pastor Swaim described how helpless and dumb and unimpressive sheep are. And he’s right!
My children have books about amazing animal rescues. None of these stories involve heroic sheep. Is there any episode of “Man vs. Wild,” where host Bear Grylls comes across sheep that weren’t already dead? Usually having wandered off into some boggy moor. Scripture often likens us to sheep. And we think that’s sweet.
According to Pastor Swaim, sheep not only need to be led to green pastures, but they often have to be “made” to lie down! These sheep, the shepherd needs to bonk on the head with his rod, to make them lay down in green pastures; forced to receive what they actually want. Feeling the ‘bonk’ these days? Lay down already!
I remember skimming over verses like:
“Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you,”
(1 Thessalonians 4:11)
Other versions say, "strive to live," or "make it your goal," to live. . .
What about those champions of faith in scriptures and throughout history? Who wanted to lead a “quiet” life? Jesus saved me and I was excited about it! Pleasing God to me meant living the adventures of men like Paul. To my thinking, “quiet” was the antonym of “adventurous.” Sit back and live quietly? I thought not!
“I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone--for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”
1 Timothy 2:1-4
Skimming such verses, I’d miss what was being said. This life of peace and quiet “pleases God our Savior.” And look! Because God, “…wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”
Is this verse saying that our living a quiet and peaceful life, may help more people come to know Him? The very thing God wants? It’s taken a few bonks perhaps, but I have actually experienced this happening. Lately I’m even starting to enjoy these pastures.
We need to “strive” to live this quiet and peace filled life, because trouble is coming at us, (especially if we don't leave out the "in all godliness and holiness" part):
"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."
“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
When we follow Christ, we are going against this world’s grain. We rub the world and the world responds with splinters. The peace filled life is not man’s natural response to trouble. That’s why we don’t do the planning.
"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Isaiah 55:9, 10
When Ann and I moved out to Central Asia, we were loaded with strategic plans on how to “reach” Muslim people for Jesus. Good plans, which had apparently “worked” in other Muslim areas of the world. But copying what God did elsewhere is just religion. What did He want for these folk? We should have asked Him that first.
There were all kinds of obstacles too! Ann and I were still a young couple, and brand new parents. Communication at home was murky; and then we didn’t yet speak either of the two local languages. Bodies adjusting to the new home, we were losing weight fast, and on the toilet much. Evangelism was borderline illegal. Our mail was read, our telephone tapped, and spies were even sent into our classes to watch what we said and did. Not peaceful!
One pre-written plan for reaching Muslim folk, included finding men who would, after believing, be trained to lead those who would soon believe. I remember meeting a man named Ahmetjan. He seemed open to discuss spiritual things. He was patient with my language limitations. And he seemed to be a natural leader. So off I went to track down Ahmetjan, with the only scripture as yet in his language, a Gospel of Mark.
I went to his dorm. He wasn’t there. His roommates invited me in for tea. But I was on a mission. So I went to the reading room. He wasn’t there either. Some, who thought they’d seen him leaving, invited me to come to their room for tea. Nope! Off I went to find Ahmetjan. Not there? “He’s gone back to his dorm?” Me? Sit and chat? No time for that! I ran to his room. Nobody was home at all! Sigh!
Exhausted, I’d passed up 4 invitations to meet people with whom I might have shared Christ. I felt so stupid! Upset, I stopped at my usual place by the river, to read and pray so as not to bring this heaviness home. Blah! “God, you're not helping!”
Watching water flowing on by my bench was peaceful! Relaxing now, I soon opened the scriptures. Jesus was telling the fishermen to let down their nets. Peter was saying to Him, “. . . but because You say so…”
Then, hearing voices, I looked up to find myself surrounded by smiling students. Guess they knew they surprised me. Between classes, these young men and women wanted to know, “What are you reading?”
I explained that I was reading the gospels, “The Injil.” They asked me to read some. Reading from the English, I slowly translated where Jesus was talking to fishermen; instructing them to cast their nets again, though they had labored all night with no results. The students were patient as I managed to get through the story. We then talked about how if the disciples had said “No,” because Jesus was not a fisherman, that they would have missed that miracle catch. As they left for class, I closed my eyes to pray for them; then I saw this funny picture in my head:
On the one side was this boat, with smiling ancient fishermen casting nets into the water. On the other side stood a stressed and tired looking version of me, holding a spear poised and ready. I was spear fishing!
I had been striving all afternoon, to spear one fish that may or may never be caught. And when finally made to sit, God filled up the bench around me, where a dozen students just heard more truth about Jesus than they’d ever heard before.
I guess it was either repent of my ways, and trust God, or go get another “How to” book, probably end up more stressed, get another “bonk,” and seeing the next picture of myself fishing with cormorants. I repented.
A quiet and peaceful life in Christ is not boring! There was way more adventure on that peaceful bench, than in my running all over campus. I went home excited!
Over and over, scripture teaches that “selfish ambition” is what wars against our living the quiet and peaceful life that God wants for us. We must strive to live a peaceful life, because it isn’t natural to our flesh. Kingdom adventure is in receiving, not achieving. Look! Who gets the credit when someone spears a fish? The fisherman! Who gets praised when the net gets filled? God!
Scripture promises that we’ll have trouble. The world will hate us, because it hates Jesus. (John 15:18) Just following Him will bring us into hostile territory. But believers are promised a life of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and all that the Holy Spirit has to give us. God will work these qualities in us. But we won’t achieve them. We must receive them?
God is good! He will complete the work in us that He has begun. (Philippians 1:6) We can either lie down peacefully, or wait for the next “bonk!” You won’t be bored following Jesus. And after 30 years of following Christ, Steve will also look back and see that he has indeed received from God, what no man gets on his own.